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2007: a year of renewal
City: a search for balance
By J. Jacob Edel and Mary L. Grady
Mercer Island Reporter
A look through the last 12 months of the Reporter reveals events and trends that will shape Island life for years to come.
The new year found Mercer Island still recovering from the effects of the record-breaking storms in December, when Islanders were without power for days - some more than a week. Repairs of damaged power lines and homes continued throughout the month. Reporter stories and photos reviewed the extent of the damage and how neighbors helped each other during the black out.
The heavy rains, cold temperatures and power outages also crippled and damaged portions of the Island’s water and sewage systems, requiring an emergency replacement of a line near the community center and Luther Burbank Park. Construction crews quickly installed a 2,300-foot long above-ground sewer line, which was removed in March. Our first issue of 2007 also reported on the closure of the King County Journal, the Eastside daily newspaper that was the parent paper of the Reporter.
In the mindset of disaster preparedness, the city began drilling in search of an emergency supply well at Rotary Park.
More snow swept though the region in mid-January, causing the Mercer Island School District students to miss even more days of school.
Real estate prices for Island homes in 2006 were reported up to $100 per square foot for the year.
The controversy with the proposed PEAK development at the high school heated up with neighbors who had concerns about traffic and parking at the high school.
Statistics indicated that crime on the Island fell in 2006.
In response to public outcry from Renton and Mercer Island residents, the City of Renton postponed decisions regarding its proposed corporate jet center at its municipal airport. The City Council also hired a law firm to research the city’s options and consult the city about the airport proposal.
The city named Ken and Margaret Quarles as Citizens of the Year for 2006 on Feb. 5. The couple received the award for selling an undeveloped five-acre piece of land to the city at a bargain price. The city named the new park land in honor of Margaret’s father, Oscar Engstrom, who originally purchased the land.
On Feb. 28 the California-based company that owns Long Drugs announced it would be closing the Island’s South end location. It has since become a Rite Aid.
At the end of February, the Reporter ran a story about an Island estate for sale for $39.5 million — it joined another manse on the Island that was also for sale at $40 million. The asking price for both homes have since been reduced. The proposed development at the old Safeway site began its way through the permit process.
Discussions in the community continued about PEAK. A crack was found in one of Island Market Square garage’s concrete beams. The Rotary half-marathon was cold and rainy — but despite the chill, more than 3,600 runners came to run or walk and raise money for colon cancer awareness. A nationwide recall of pet food reached the Island, prompting many anxious pet owners to call their vets and pet supply store. $1 million for new Island firetrucks was approved. John Starbuck, the owner of Starbuck’s Towing, won $10,000 at a contest during a Seattle Thunderbird’s hockey game. He signed his winnings over to MEOW, a non-profit animal shelter that used to be based on Mercer Island.
Sound Transit announced the North Mercer Park and Ride lot would not open this month as originally scheduled due to the problems with the two-story garage’s support structure. The City Council approved the PEAK development agreement, satisfied with provisions designated to protect the surrounding neighborhood while providing a youth center near the high school. The agreement was previously approved by the Boys and Girls Club and later approved by the School District.
The opening day for the newly re-formed Mercer Island Little League Baseball took place. The Reporter published a story on what happened to open spaces promised in new Town Center developments as the Council was finalizing new codes to allow developers to build to a greater height on the Island.
Light rail and buses competed in the minds of Island commuters and voters as Sound Transit presented a proposed Island station.
Construction crews began widening the westbound lanes of I-90 from the East Channel Bridge to 80th Avenue S.E. to add a carpool lane and a direct access off-ramp from I-90 to 80th Avenue S.E.
More buildings were torn down to make way for new ones in the Town Center, including the Chevron station at 78th Avenue S.E. and Sunset Highway. The Council approved new building codes for the Town Center. Patti Darling, Maureen Judge and Bob Bersos announced their intent to run for the City Council. A pair of osprey returned to their nest at Islander Stadium. The School District opened enrollment to students outside the district. The Washington Department of Transportation assured city leaders that Island-bound or originated single occupancy vehicles wouldn’t lose the right to use future HOV lanes or the center roadway of I-90.
The owners of the Shorewood Heights Apartments announced that Shorewood would expand with 120 new condos and town homes on 44 acres near the existing development. The emergency well at Rotary park had the quantity and quality to supply Islanders with water in an emergency, and the well was part of the plan to redesign the entire park. The Aljoya house under construction on 76th Avenue S.E. began to take shape.
Janet Frohnmayer announced her run for the School Board while Bruce Bassett entered the race for the City Council. The city announced it would begin a program to reduce energy use and the carbon footprint of the city. Mayor Cairns said he would step down as mayor after 10 years on the City Council. Earth day events took place throughout the Island. Police arrested a 16-year-old Maple Valley boy for tying up a 71-year-old Island resident, hitting him in the face with a cutting board and stealing his car.
The Mercer Island Clergy Association announced plans to bring Tent City 4 to the Island within a year. An unprecedented amount of citizens filed for a City Council position, bringing the first primary contest for a Council seat in recent years. Jon Friedman and Mike Cero joined the race. School Board incumbents Pat Braman and Lisa Strauch Eggers declared their intentions to run again.
The Council postponed adding traffic lights in the Town Center and discussed potential changes for Island Crest Way and Merrimount Drive.
360 seniors graduated from Mercer Island High School — including 15 National Merit Scholars. The city’s new public service officer, Kim Druktenis, completed her training and began enforcing parking regulations and the leash law passed earlier in the spring.
The Seafair Pirates raided the Summer Celebration. The Design Commission heard an initial proposal of the PEAK project.
A police officer struck a pedestrian crossing a street, his vision obstructed by the glare of the setting sun on the Fourth of July, and seriously injured the man. Island resident and anti-illegal immigration advocate Bob Baker failed to get enough signatures to make an initiative on the state ballot for the second year in a row.
Father Kemp of St. Monica Church took a voluntary leave of absence after being investigated for inappropriate conduct with a minor.
Police made a record number of arrests during the annual SeaFair as the Blue Angels roared above the Island once again. A small return of Lake Washington Sockeye prevented a salmon-fishing season. Mike Cero and Maureen Judge won the City Council primary and advanced to the November election. A closure of I-5 in Seattle near the I-90 interchange went smoothly but changed the commuting routes for several Island residents and employees.
The Island’s only motel, the Travelodge, closed at the end of the month after serving Islanders and their guests for half a century. The city entered an agreement with Renton to jointly fund a noise impact study regarding the proposed corporate jet center. School began for Mercer Island schools and 43 out-of-district students scattered among the five public schools.
The Boys and Girls Club of King County announced the sale of its current 2.87-acre Mercer Island facility at the old East Seattle School to Islanders Michael and Billi Jo O’Brien for $6 million.
Plans to construct the corporate jet center at the Renton Airport were tossed out after Boeing announced plans to expand its 737 program at the Airport.
Islanders responded to reports that shares of a water right are available to use Lake Washington for irrigation.
About a handful of the Island’s waterfront property owners and the city had heard of the unique opportunity. After the Reporter ran a story, about 60 applications were submitted to obtain shares of the water right.
The Design Commission approved the re-development of the old Safeway with a 6,000-square-foot public plaza. A new artificial turf field was installed at Islander Middle School, and the Island Select soccer team, Fuego, won the inaugural match.
Mike Cero won a close race with Maureen Judge, and Bruce Bassett defeated Patti Darling for City Council seats. Nearly 60 percent of the Island’s registered voters participated in the election. Prop. 1 failed, although Island voters supported the transportation measure. Changes at the Island Crest Way/Merrimount Drive intersection were installed as a temporary test measure to make the intersection safer. Sound Transit announced that it would not open the Park and Ride in December, as previously scheduled.
The City Council also voted to reduce its subsidy to Mary Wayte Pool over the next few years by $20,000 each year.
Ben Keylin, the executive director of Youth Theatre Northwest, was arrested and charged with third-degree rape and communicating with a minor for immoral purposes. The theater immediately placed Keylin on leave and later fired him.
Island Republican Representative Fred Jarrett announced that he would run for the Senate seat as a Democrat. Senator Brian Weinstein said he would not seek re-election, and City Councilmember Steve Litzow stated he would run as a Republican for the state representative position to be vacated by Jarrett.
A fire in the Ellsworth House displaced seven residents by destroying two apartments. Nobody was injured from the blaze, due to a rapid response by local fire departments. Tatters, a woman’s clothing store, won the Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year Award.